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Harvest Prep continues to build 8-man football program
There's always something new players for the Harvest Prep football team have to figure out before they try to understand coach Nathen Baker's Spin Option offense.
Something comes first before they learn what an outside linebacker, field goal or crackback block is.
They have to figure out how to put their pads on.
“The first year, they're putting their shoulder pads on backwards,” Baker said.
Junior Ruben Anaya, a soccer player turned running back for the Eagles, understands what the younger players are going through.
“I help them put on their stuff, because it's not easy the first time. I think it was the first game, I couldn't play in the first game because I couldn't get my pads in. I was struggling and I was just on the sideline the whole time trying to figure out how to put them in.”
But the difficulty of football pads isn't the only struggle Baker has coaching the Eagles. His team must try to avoid sprained ankles practicing on a patch of grass next to Kennedy Skate Park. They play their games, like 7 p.m. today against Summit, in the outfield of one of the baseball fields at Ray Kroc Complex. It's not exactly the atmosphere that somebody expects when it comes to Friday nights under the lights.
“There are a lot of hassles to rent out fields. It would be so much easier to have a field of our own to practice on. That's the more frustrating thing to me,” Baker said. “Not many people know about Harvest Prep football unless they're associated with Harvest Prep.”
“At first, I'm not going to lie, it was,” Anaya said about the frustration of not having that traditional football feeling. “You just see a few people and it's all people from school, then I'd go to a Kofa game and it'd be all full, the whole stadium. That's why I'd want to play in my own stadium.”
As an 8-man football team in the Arizona Charter Athletic Association, Harvest Prep has slowly started to improve since its inaugural season in 2009. In the first two seasons, it won a combined three games. Last season, it went 4-4 and Baker feels his team is capable of winning six games this year — at least.
Now carrying a roster of 33 players, the Eagles have experience. Along with Anaya, seniors Isaias Lucero and William Hutton Jr. and junior Carlos Mosqueda anchor the offensive and defensive line. Senior Dale Hutton is a strong defensive end, and junior M.J. Ybarra is the speedy quarterback for an Eagle team that predominately runs the ball.
In fact, during the season-opening 38-20 win, Ybarra threw the ball only once — a 15-yard completion to Ernest Fierros. Instead, three players rushed for over 100 yards — Ybarra, Esteban Sanchez and Armando Moreno — James Loghry ran for 90 and Jordan McGhee rushed for 70. By the end of the game, the Eagles had rushed for 550 yards.
“There are a lot of schools that will open it up and pass the ball, but we're not one of them at this point,” Baker said.
While Baker has to balance getting the players up to speed with a crash course of football knowledge and making sure they know how to put thigh pads into pants, he had one more concern coming into the season: Junior Esperanza Romero and sophomore Sabriana Connor decided they wanted to play football.
“I love football. I've always loved it. And everybody told me I could never play it because I'm a female,” Romero said.
“Basically I wanted to prove that even though I'm small and a girl, I can do it. Anybody can do it,” said Connor.
Baker worried about it. He worried that the 4-foot-11 Romero and 5-foot Connor might not be ready to handle being tackled. He worried that the boys would be hesitant to tackle the petite girls — that they'd change how they tackle.
“Maybe the first time we do it each day, the guys are really nervous tackling them,” Baker said. “They don't necessarily take it easy on them, but you can tell they think about it. The girls came out and they wanted to play and they wanted to be treated the same or why are they even out there?”
“I noticed them going full speed and then slowing down when they see me,” said Romero who, despite getting a broken finger and injuring a ligament in her right knee, still walks the sidelines of practice.
Connor expected the bumps and bruises. She expected to be knocked to the ground. But what she didn't expect were the cerebral aspects of the game.
“I thought it was going to be all muscle and no brain. I didn't think there'd be so much thinking involved, I thought it was just running with the ball.”